Heading abroad on a trip this summer? Reduce your anxiety and minimize the likelihood that you’ll become the victim of a crime by following these best practices for managing your money while you’re away from home.
Tip #1: Limit the amount of cash you carry, and get it from an ATM
It’s a good idea to have some cash on your person when you’re abroad… but it shouldn’t be a huge amount, since an increasing number of places in an increasing number of countries take plastic.
You don’t need to be walking around Rome or Madrid with more than a hundred euros in your wallet, for example, since you don’t need huge sums to patronize street vendors and farmer’s markets.
You also don’t need to worry about stocking up on foreign currency before you arrive at your destination; you can get it from an ATM after passing through customs. Look for an ATM run by a reputable financial institution so you can avoid paying unnecessary fees. (Bank-owned ATMs generally have the bank’s logo prominently displayed; that’s how you can tell the difference.) You’ll be able to withdraw cash in the currency of the country you’re visiting.
Oh, and don’t bother with American Express “traveller’s cheques” … those are a thing of the past, as this traveler discovered. Hardly any establishments will accept them. Instead, bring multiple chipped credit and debit cards.
Tip #2: Keep your cash and your plastic in a money belt
Beware of pickpockets when traveling, especially while using public transit or when you’re visiting crowded tourist attractions. To protect your money and your identification, wear a money belt under your clothing so that your wallet can’t be lifted out of your pocket or purse by a skilled thief.
Tip #3: Use a credit card for purchases
Use your debit card to withdraw cash, but not to buy anything.
When you check into a hotel, rent a car, or make a purchase, always provide a credit card instead of a debit card. That way, you’re spending your bank or your credit union’s money instead of your own money.
If you experience the misfortune of your card number being fraudulently used, you won’t have to worry about a hold being placed on funds in your checking account, or worse, your money disappearing out of your account until you can get the fraudulent charges disputed. You also won’t have to worry about the many annoying restrictions rental car companies place on customers trying to pay with a debit card if you’re trying to get wheels.
Don’t have a credit card? Apply for one before you travel.
Tip #4: Tell your bank or credit union where you’re going
Most financial institutions will now let you set up travel alerts with a few mouse clicks or taps from a mobile device. You don’t even need to talk to anyone. Just log in and specify where you are going and for how long you’ll be there. By telling your bank or credit union about your travel plans, you greatly reduce the possibility that any transactions you attempt during your travels will be blocked due to suspected fraud. Do this for each bank or credit union that you have a relationship with.
Tip #5: Review your activity every night
Use your financial institution’s mobile app to review authorizations and charges that have posted to your account every night before going to bed. That way, you can quickly spot any fraudulent charges and keep track of your spending. Avoid signing into online banking using a cybercafe. If you’re connecting to the Internet through a public Wi-Fi hotpot, initiate a VPN session on your device prior to signing into your accounts.
Tip #6: Make photocopies of all of your cards before you travel
Before you depart on your trip, you should make copies of all of your cards… debit cards, credit cards, driver’s license, health insurance card, auto insurance card, and so on. You should also make a copy of your passport.
Leave one copy in your safe at home and give one to a trusted neighbor or family member who isn’t traveling with you. In the event your cards are stolen, you’ll then have an inventory of what needs to be replaced.
Bonus tip: Put your card data into your password manager too
You can also enter all of your card data into the secure vault of your password manager if you have one (and you should have one).